Macmillan Children’s Books will dive into new waters next winter with the launch of Neon Squid Books, an imprint dedicated to publishing gift nonfiction books that make complex topics – such as archaeology and medicine – accessible and intriguing to young readers. Co-publishers, Joanne Clark, Fiona Macdonald, and Sam Priddy, who all joined from Dorling Kindersley, introduce their new list.
Neon flying squid sound like made-up animals. Mysterious underwater beasts that glow in the dark and can even fly through the air – sometimes startling sailors when they end up on the decks of their ships. Well, as the sailors will attest, these are very much real animals. We named our imprint after these intriguing creatures because they support our belief that the best stories – and animals, and people, and adventures – are the real ones, even if they’re not the ones you’ve heard of before.
Children’s non-fiction has been having a boom for a few years now, but we feel like it has barely scratched the surface of the stories that could be told. We set up Neon Squid because we wanted to create books that could be placed alongside the very best fiction books for kids and not look out of place. Books that could thrill, entertain and (of course) educate. Most importantly, books those kids find in a bookshop and plead with their parents to buy so they can run home, curl up on a sofa and be whisked away to foreign lands full of unbelievable things.
In Tales of Ancient Worlds they will get to dive deep beneath the waves to discover a sunken Egyptian city several miles off the coast; in Animal Sidekicks they will trek into the jungles of South America to come face to face with a tiny frog that is flatmates with a fearsome tarantula; and in The Book of Sisters they will be inspired by Native American sisters Maria and Marjorie Tallchief of the Osage Nation, who became ballet superstars.
One of the best things about non-fiction is it’s always changing. From a publishing perspective, it can be frustrating (They’ve just discovered Jupiter has another moon?! *slams head on desk*) – but it is also one of the immense joys of working on these books. A dinosaur book we do today will be unrecognisable from one we do in a decade. Just like it would have been unthinkable a few years ago that T. rex would have feathers, or that Velociraptor was actually the size of a turkey.
To make these books we have to stay on our toes, and we know that the best way of doing that is by working with experts. Our authors come from a variety of interesting backgrounds – from archaeology YouTuber Stefan Milosavljevich to insect expert Dr Jessica L Ware, who has been awarded a Presidential Medal for her work on bug evolution. Our book about sisters is written by Katie Nelson and Olivia Meikle, a history professor and a women’s studies professor. Oh – and they’re sisters! For our book The Hospital we wanted someone who is working in one right now, so we were thrilled to team up with Dr Christle Nwora, who wrote the book in between shifts. All of our authors have one thing in common: an ability to take complicated subjects and explain them in a fun and accessible way.
We know that not all kids are the same: they don’t all learn at the same rate and they’re not all interested in the same things. As a result we create books that will appeal to all sorts of readers, from fact fans and visual learners to those who just want to read gripping stories. Kids are the most discerning readers going, so we use whatever we can to hook them in – whether that’s intriguing topics, humour, or brilliant illustrations. On each page there should be something that piques the interest of even the most reluctant reader.
Our books have been illustrated by award-winning illustrators from around the world. Indian artist Chaaya Prabhat is responsible for our A Day in the Life series, which profiles different animals in the style of a nature documentary, while American Ginnie Hsu’s soft, picture book style is perfect for demystifying a trip to the hospital for kids who might be anxious. For The Book of Sisters we worked with 35 different illustrators – each handpicked to suit the area of history each page covered, from the courts of imperial China to the French Revolution.
Our motto at Neon Squid is ‘spark an interest that could last a lifetime’, and we think it pretty much sums up what we’re all about. We want to gently guide kids to areas they might not be overly familiar with, just to see if it takes their fancy. They won’t necessarily be interested in scientists searching the universe for aliens, or how humpback whale poo is super important for the health of our oceans (I mean, how could they not be interested in that…) – but if they are, we’ll provide them with everything they need to nurture their passion.
Our dream is that one day, maybe 20 or 30 years from now, a young archaeologist unearths a priceless Roman artefact, undisturbed for 2,000 years, and as they do so, they remember the time they read about the excavations in Tales of Ancient Worlds that set them off on their journey of discovery.
The Neon Squid list will launch in April 2022.
Tales of Ancient Worlds: Adventures in Archaeology by Stefan Milosavljevich, ill. Sam Cardwell, 978-1838991562, £14.99
The Book of Sisters, Katie Nelson and Olivia Meikle, 978-1838991487, £12.99
Animal Sidekicks: Amazing Stories of Symbiosis in Animals and Plants, Macken Murphy, ill. Dragan Kordić, 978-1838991531, £12.99